Haver Analytics
Haver Analytics
| Nov 28 2023

Are Consumers Any Better at Predicting the Rate of Inflation than Economists?

I don’t have access to the Blue Chip survey of economists’ forecasts of various economic data anymore, so I can’t answer my question. But I do have access to consumers’ inflation forecasts and these forecasts are terrible. Plotted in the chart below are monthly observations of consumers’ forecasts of year-ahead inflation as reported in the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey (the blue bars). Also plotted in the chart are monthly observations of the actual (until revised) year-over-year percent changes in the All-Items Consumer Price Index (the red line). The CPI percent changes are lagged such that they line up with month in which the consumers’ forecasts were surveyed. For example, in May 2020, consumers were forecasting that the year-over-year inflation rate in May 2021 would be 3.2% (the height of the blue bar in May 2020). As luck would have it, the actual CPI inflation rate turned out to be 4.9% (the height of the red line in May 2020). In October 2022, consumers were forecasting that the year-over-year inflation rate in October 2023 would be 5.0%. In fact, it turned out to be 3.2%. In the latest November survey, consumers are forecasting that inflation will be 4.5% in the 12 months ahead. Given that the sum of the monetary base plus commercial bank credit grew by only 0.7% in the 12 months ended October 2023, my bet is that the year-over-year percent change in the CPI in November 2024 will be much lower than 5.0%.

For the life of me, I do not understand why traders/investors (?) pay attention to these consumer surveys. Or perhaps they don’t. Perhaps it is financial journalists (?) who otherwise can’t explain why financial markets did what they did on a particular day, ascribe that day’s movement in the financial markets to consumers’ year-ahead forecasts of inflation.

  • Mr. Kasriel is founder of Econtrarian, LLC, an economic-analysis consulting firm. Paul’s economic commentaries can be read on his blog, The Econtrarian.   After 25 years of employment at The Northern Trust Company of Chicago, Paul retired from the chief economist position at the end of April 2012. Prior to joining The Northern Trust Company in August 1986, Paul was on the official staff of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in the economic research department.   Paul is a recipient of the annual Lawrence R. Klein award for the most accurate economic forecast over a four-year period among the approximately 50 participants in the Blue Chip Economic Indicators forecast survey. In January 2009, both The Wall Street Journal and Forbes cited Paul as one of the few economists who identified early on the formation of the housing bubble and the economic and financial market havoc that would ensue after the bubble inevitably burst. Under Paul’s leadership, The Northern Trust’s economic website was ranked in the top ten “most interesting” by The Wall Street Journal. Paul is the co-author of a book entitled Seven Indicators That Move Markets (McGraw-Hill, 2002).   Paul resides on the beautiful peninsula of Door County, Wisconsin where he sails his salty 1967 Pearson Commander 26, sings in a community choir and struggles to learn how to play the bass guitar (actually the bass ukulele).   Paul can be contacted by email at econtrarian@gmail.com or by telephone at 1-920-559-0375.

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